Refugee Radio Network rises in Europe despite xenophobia
All photos by and courtesy of Janto Rößner.
Asha Siad is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker. Asha is also a 2015 ivoh summit attendee. You can follow her on Twitter at @AshaReports.
Sounds of refugee voices can be heard on FM stations across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. If you listen closely to the popular jingle at the beginning of Refugee Radio Network’s 60 minute show, you will hear “in your face, all over the place, we are on air, we are online.”
In an interview with ivoh, founder Larry Macaulay said Refugee Radio Network is an alternative voice to mainstream media.
“When we started there was a lot of negative narratives in mainstream media about people like myself,” Macaulay said. “We are dangerous, we are terrorists, we are rapists … in order to deconstruct that we had to engage. And, how do we engage? By having our own alternative voice.”
Since launching in 2014, Refugee Radio Network has garnered over 90,000 listeners per week on radio and over 1.2 million listeners online through SoundCloud. They began with one program but today have expanded to 30 programs reaching communities across Germany in languages including English, Arabic, German and Somali.
It has been a long journey for Macaulay, who arrived in Europe in 2011 following the crisis in Libya. The former engineer left Nigeria in 2008 after his home state of Jos became the epicenter of religious and ethnic conflict. He found work in Libya as an engineer but once again had to flee due to the Arab uprising.
Macaulay made the same decision countless refugees have made; to set sail for Europe. The UNHCR reported that 3,740 refugees and migrants died crossing the Mediterranean this year alone.
“It’s between life and death … you have to decide very well before you embark on that journey. It’s not smooth, it’s very perilous, people die, but I was lucky, I left on May 27, 2011 with 270 passengers — males, females, and different nationalities — on a wooden fishing boat,” Macaulay said. “We arrived at the Italian shores … and I was responsible for placing the call to the Italian coastguards to come and rescue us.”
Once rescued, they were taken to an identification centre in Lampedusa and then transferred to different towns across Italy. Along with 140 other refugees, Macaulay was transferred to Amantea, a coastal town in southern Italy. He says human rights violations, such as poor living conditions, began to take place upon their arrival. Macaulay quickly became a vocal advocate for refugees.
After receiving his documents in 2013, Macaulay travelled to Naples and continued speaking out against the violations and abuses refugees faced in his community. One year later, he received a call from a social rights group in Hamburg called “Lampedusa in Hamburg.” Most of the participants in the group also fled the 2011 Libyan Civil War.
“I came to Hamburg in 2014 and I started helping them to raise campaign awareness for the just cause and in between that I decided to start this media platform called Refugee Radio Network,” Macaulay said.
Macaulay is no stranger to radio; in high school and college he was a disc jockey in Nigeria. He also became an activist in the 90s during the Abacha military junta for pro democracy. There was a independent radio station created by exiles called Radio Democracy and Macaulay joined to help spread the message across the Western part of Nigeria.
Since then, Macaulay has understood the power of radio as a tool to educate and raise awareness about the challenges refugees face, which is why he created RRN.
“The community was not aware of why we were in their community, they didn’t know what drove us away from Libya, they didn’t know what drove us away from Italy, they were fed with wrong news in their daily newspapers, and their televisions about refugees,” Macaulay said. “Some networks weren’t even publishing anything about refugee issues as of 2014 … I just saw it as an opportunity … we will now start teaching each other.”
RRN is often run by up to 20 individuals at a time. This includes volunteer independent producers that Macaulay and his team train. Some of these newcomers have never used a computer or had media training before. He says they are seeing more professionals coming in, refugees who were journalists back home.
One of these journalists is Ahmed Nuur Ibrahim, who is the host of RRN’s new show called Somali Voices. The program, produced by Somali refugees and for Somali refugees, explores integration and cultural understanding in Germany. Macaulay says they have also received a lot of interest from women who would like to host their own radio programs.
“Lama [a young Syrian woman] that started [Salam Show] in Luxembourg for instance … I met them and I saw the passion in young people coming out and wanting to represent themselves in a positive way to deconstruct the enmity in the community, that really emboldens me … we are doing the right thing,” Macaulay said.
Through these programs, RRN delves into a range of issues faced by refugee communities, from topics such as discrimination to inequality within refugee groups.
To date, Macaulay has traveled to countless cities across Europe to spread the message of Refugee Radio Network and facilitate workshops on media diversity and inclusion. RRN receives many emails worldwide from Australia to Thailand. Macaulay and his team will be launching RRN2 in Southern Europe next year with a plan for community radio stations in Rome and Naples. He says their work is more than just media and that it is about having a community-oriented approach.
“Media is just one tool to expand what we are doing on the ground. Next year we hope to host a festival here in Hamburg … [we’ll] bring artists, creative refugees activists from all across the board, refugee media activists in one space for three days.”
Macaulay says Refugee Radio Network’s message is simple.
“We are here to connect cultures, share knowledge, share cultures, share history and [create] a peaceful cohesive society. That’s our vision. [We hold] dialogue so that we can deconstruct this migrant fear in Europe, which is very high at the moment. That’s why we do what we do with radio.”
Editor’s note: Story edited for length and clarity.
Related: Meet Heidi Shin, 2016 Restorative Narrative fellow and multi-media journalist sharing the stories of refugees | How a photojournalist tells the stories of refugees in Minnesota | Honoring Samia Yusuf Omar through ‘An Olympic Dream’ & the determination of the Refugee Olympic Team | How ViewFind is changing the landscape for visual storytellers | ivoh fellow Heidi Shin on why a young Liberian refugee, educated in America, chooses to move back ‘home’